Sports

Falcons cornerback A.J. Terrell prioritizes the Atlanta highschool that formed him


ATLANTA — He snuck within the again entrance on this Friday night: no large entourage, no announcement, not even a big cheer from the Westlake High School crowd. He hugged his household, who had been hanging out on the sideline earlier than this highschool soccer sport, after which turned towards the sphere.

The sport in opposition to Carrollton began, and Atlanta Falcons cornerback A.J. Terrell, decked out in a military-green hoodie with a black T-shirt beneath, inexperienced pants and camo-colored Nikes, stood by the purpose line close to the scoreboard and watched intently. On the sphere, his youthful brother, Avieon, was doing precisely what A.J. had accomplished years earlier.

When an NFL participant returns to his highschool, it is often an enormous deal. There’s a celebratory vibe or some form of acknowledgement. Not for Terrell — not less than not on at the present time — and that is for good purpose.

A.J. Terrell is at all times round.

“He’s such a familiar face,” Westlake athletic director Carl Green stated. “So it’s a sense of normalcy for him because everybody is treating him like he probably wasn’t here. It’s not a star-struck mentality … it’s a familiarity. It’s a comfortability. It’s a situation where he feels like he’s at home.”

Westlake has been dwelling for all 4 of the Terrell youngsters, of which Avieon, a senior, is the youngest. His household has been intertwined with Westlake for near a decade. His dad and mom are constants at occasions and have labored the concession stands.

It’s why Terrell needed to present again to Westlake by donating his money and time. Terrell’s agent, David Mulugheta, often advises his rookie shoppers to give attention to soccer by making the workforce and getting settled.

With Terrell it was completely different. He was adamant as quickly as he signed his contract, particularly since he was lucky sufficient to be dwelling in Atlanta, that he needed to begin giving again to Westlake.

“It’s all the years we went through and just the brand and all the people there and the school itself,” Terrell stated.

“It is just something that I love and want to take care of.”

What began as an thought has turn into one thing extra — a symbiotic relationship between Terrell and his alma mater, significantly the soccer and monitor packages. He’s invested emotionally and financially.

He has larger objectives, too, to assist extra of the town he grew up in and represents on Sundays as one of many higher younger cornerbacks within the NFL. But all of it begins at the highschool that formed him.


THAT TERRELL CAN slip out and in of a Westlake sport unnoticed is how he prefers it. It suits his persona. He’s by no means been one to hunt consideration. The extra understated, the higher.

For this sport in opposition to Carrollton, he has a larger-than-usual private crowd. Terrell had a safety guard escort him — largely on the faculty’s request — alongside along with his brokers, Mulugheta and Trey Smith, and Smith’s younger son. His dad and mom, Aundell and Aliya, have been there when he arrived to say hey and provides him a hug. Then they went to observe from the stands. Sometimes Aundell watches on the sideline, too, however not on this October evening.

On a typical evening it is Terrell and the safety guard. Maybe one different particular person. He’s not glad-handing, though he’ll take footage if individuals ask him to, and a few individuals do cease him.

Otherwise, when he reveals up for as many video games, he is there to concentrate, not be fussed over.

“I’m locked in. I’m there for a reason,” Terrell stated. “I’m not just there to show face and not watch the game and not have a clue of what’s going on.”

When Terrell made it clear to his brokers and enterprise supervisor, Denise Thompson, that Westlake was the primary place he needed to assist, they started working. Thompson arrange a donor-advised fund for Terrell and his household, and so they met with Fulton County Schools and Westlake in 2020.

Westlake offered Terrell with a finances with requests for what they have been trying to improve or change. Each 12 months, it is up to date, and Terrell does what he can to help. So far, Thompson stated, Terrell has donated between $40,000 and $50,000.

His generosity has helped improve the workforce’s weight room with new tools, together with treadmills. He changed the varsity’s hurdles — roughly $200 every. He additionally helped construct a document board for monitor and area that’s exhibited to the aspect of the soccer area — a board that has “Terrell Jr.” on it as a part of the 4×100 meter relay run in 40.72 seconds in 2017 and “Terrell” for Avieon’s information within the 4×400 meter relay (3:14.04 set in 2022) and 4×200 meter relay (1:28.11 set in 2022) — and championship rings.

Terrell’s monitor coach, Jason Cage, stated Terrell is this system’s largest booster.

“He’s really helped bring the program along,” Cage stated. “You know, he’s really been the person behind it.”


THE TRACK PROGRAM had a shock for Terrell. When he dedicated his assist — one thing Cage stated he wasn’t anticipating, particularly since monitor wasn’t his main sport at Westlake — it additionally dedicated to him.

Cage went to the Terrell household with an thought for the A.J. Terrell Relays, which embrace red-and-black batons with Terrell’s title and face on them. The workforce offered him along with his monitor jersey, framed. T-shirts along with his likeness got out. The girls and boys winners of the 4×100 relay, for which he holds the document, have been offered with autographed No. 24 Terrell jerseys.

Cage stated they did this as a result of “of his giving spirit, man. We just wanted to honor A.J.” Terrell did not ask for this, however he had no subject supporting it. It was a highschool monitor meet being placed on, which was a assist and a part of his purpose of giving again.

“It was an honor for them to even bring my name up to have a track meet for me,” Terrell stated. “So it was definitely big on my behalf and something I really bit at ASAP. They offered it and I took it.”

In some methods, it suits along with his broader plan. Nothing about what he is doing is a one-off or simply whereas his brother stays related to the varsity. This is deeper. In June, he held his first free A.J. Terrell soccer camp for Atlanta-area children ages 12 and youthful.

Wearing a really seen crimson shirt and a crimson hat with “ATL” written in script on the entrance, Terrell led one of many stations of drills. He noticed children work by way of the ladder drill and stated “set … go” earlier than each duo took off.

His household helped to run the camp, and Terrell introduced alongside teammates Avery Williams, Richie Grant and Isaiah Oliver. He spaced the cones for drills and spoke with a camper a few 3-point stance. He joked with one other participant who requested, “How fast are you?” by responding “How fast are you?” after which pretending to race him.

Terrell loves instructing soccer, his ardour, whereas surrounded by household and giving again to the town and communities which have meant a lot to him.

Last December, he donated $1,000 to 5 separate households in want by way of the 100 Black Men of America to assist throughout the holidays with no matter was needed. It’s one thing Thompson says is of their plans yearly.

“He started at Westlake, but now he’s going and working with different programs,” Thompson stated. “He wants to be Mr. Atlanta when it comes to community.”

There is one factor he would really like. When Avieon is finished, he is hoping the No. 8 jersey at Westlake will get retired. Not solely in his title, however in his brother’s, too.

Green stated it hasn’t been mentioned but, however is not off the desk. Quite a lot of soccer alumni at Westlake have made it to the NFL and have made impacts in sports activities, so they’re determining a plan.

But it is on Terrell’s thoughts.

“It would just mean a lot,” Terrell stated. “You talk about a jersey that’s never going to be worn again because of excellence, commitment, sacrifice, dedication to the game, to the school, leadership, all that type of stuff. It means a lot.

“It’s larger than simply the jersey. That jersey being retired symbolizes all of that.”

Terrell won’t boast about it, though. It’s not like he asked for it. Thompson calls Terrell a “quiet giver.” He’ll talk about it his plans if you ask, but he isn’t going to readily push it out there.

He likes to keep things in his life — whether it’s his giving or his football or his family — simple. It’s why he wanted to start his giving with Westlake. He’d been attending football games at the school since he was 8, when Cam Newton was quarterback. Just because his family’s time as students in the school ends this year, that won’t stop his plan for the future of it because of what it meant to his.


HOLDING A SMALL COFFEE, Terrell watched intently. When Avieon intercepted a pass on the first drive, Terrell smiled and raised his right arm into the air as his brother returned it for a touchdown. Terrell beamed. “He received the instruments,” he said, and he would know. Avieon is following his brother’s path, verbally committed to Clemson.

As much as he’s a supporter and a booster, Terrell is a fan. He complained when Westlake allowed big plays. He rubbed his hands together in anticipation of Westlake’s second offensive drive and became annoyed when Carrollton went up 21-7.

Westlake struggled to a loss, and in the final quarter, Terrell implored the team to make a play and stay in the game. It almost happened. Avieon appeared to intercept a pass in the end zone. Terrell started celebrating. But there was a flag for pass interference.

As the final minutes ticked away, Terrell got ready to leave. He didn’t need to wait for Avieon; they’d talk later. Besides, Terrell would be back.

He’s scheduled to take part in a parent-athlete workshop for the track team on Dec. 10. His dad is going to speak, too, about being a supportive sports father.

It won’t strike anyone as a big deal. It’s what Terrell and his family do. They’ve been around. They are part of this community.

“It put me in place for my future,” Terrell said. “Not solely having relationships with the coaches and the ADs and stuff, however my lecturers, all palms on deck serving to me turn into who I’m as we speak, serving to me get to school and be mature and go to class and do sure issues.

“Just get everything rolling in that aspect. It helped me get to where I am.”



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